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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

When to Shift Your Brain Part 2


Two posts ago, we looked at how and why you need to shift from high to low prefrontal cortex to be creative, which left us with the question of when to shift brain states.

The previous post reviewed what brain states are most effective in the first three of the six stages of the creative process. Let’s explore the remaining three stages.

Stage 4: Illumination

This flash of insight that follows Incubation is everyone’s favorite stage. In this “A-ha” or “Eureka” moment, everything fits together. The solution that eluded you is suddenly wonderfully clear.

You may recall that the first stage, First Insight, challenges us to alternate between sharp and diffuse focus generated by high activity and low activity (respectively) in the prefrontal cortex (PFC).

Illumination requires even more: simultaneously maintaining both the logical, detail-specific focus that the PFC and the left hemisphere excel at and the more associative, global, metaphoric perspective of our right hemisphere and low PFC activity.

Given the challenge of such a tricky balance, it’s not surprising that Illumination is typically a such a brief flash.

Stage 5: Verification

Verification is putting the insight of Illumination into some tangible form that can be shared with others. You draft, revise, rewrite, edit, proofread, ask for feedback, read out loud, etc.

The sharp focus and intense attention of high activity in your PFC is most effective in Verification.

Drafting and revising in Verification often raise new questions and lead you back to First Insight. You might go through the first five stages just once for a short piece. You’re more likely to repeat the first five stages many times to complete a large writing project.

Sometimes after completing a writing project, you move into a kind of limbo where you’re not sure what to work on next and don’t have enough creative energy to move into First Insight. You’re in Hibernation.

Stage 6: Hibernation

During this the fallow time, your primary task is to recharge your batteries, restore your creative energy and renew your creative spirit. High activity in your PFC is not typically effective in this stage.

Look at beautiful images or art. Listen to beautiful music. Be in beautiful natural spaces. Garden, walk, sit by a lake, rest, wait. Give yourself time to just be; it’s the only way you can fill yourself up and have something to share again.

As your creative energy returns, you’ll start wondering “what if, why not, how about…” and other open-ended questions. These questions naturally increase activity in your PFC and funnel you back to First Insight.

Making the mental shifts necessary to moving through the creative process is easier when you know what stage you’re in and what brain state is called for in each stage. Do you know what stage you’re in now?

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